"Your nitrogen dioxide levels are above 90 parts per billion after just 19 minutes. Make sure your stove's vent hood is always running." This practical advice, which I often share with others, echoed in my mind as I participated in Stanford University's Kitchen Pollutant Study. This study aimed to measure emissions from gas-powered appliances, shedding light on the invisible pollutants emitted by my own gas-powered stove, displayed vividly on the blue monitor. As the measurements continued, the readings steadily climbed, peaking at 129 parts per billion after half an hour of testing.
Unlike the United States, where there are no nationally-recognized indoor air exposure limits, Canada has established health-based guidelines. These guidelines recommend a maximum nitrogen dioxide exposure of 90 parts per billion, beyond which reduced lung function can become a concern, particularly for individuals with asthma. I realized my stove was producing air quality measurements near where I live and work quite a bit above that safety maximum.
Equipped with insights from my work at the American Lung Association, I am more informed than the average consumer. I'm aware that Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, demonstrating the critical importance of indoor air quality. My role involves disseminating a comprehensive literature review that reveals that household appliances powered by gas, wood, propane or heating oil can release hazardous levels of pollutants into our living spaces. These pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, benzene and carbon monoxide, heighten the risk of respiratory issues such as asthma attacks and infections, particularly among vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly. Studies further demonstrate that the use of these appliances can exacerbate asthma symptoms, trigger wheezing and hinder lung function in children. Additionally, these fuel-burning appliances contribute to outdoor air pollution and accelerate climate change.
In that moment, however, I was selfishly thinking “Is this ok for my health?” and “How fast can I switch to an induction stove?”
A curious neighbor passing by inquired about the study, leading to a discussion on its purpose and findings. As I shared my knowledge, he asked what he could do to protect his family. Recommending the switch to an induction stove and other electric appliances, I highlighted the proactive steps some states and Washington DC are taking including utilizing federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act to facilitate cost-effective transitions. Knowing that not everyone wants to switch out their appliances now, I also offered him five practical strategies to mitigate the pollutants produced by his current gas stove:
- Ensure your appliances are well-maintained.
- Use your stove's vent during and after cooking.
- Verify that your stove's vent is properly directed outdoors.
- Open a window or door while using a gas-burning stove.
After five to six hours of monitoring, I had the results of my kitchen’s emissions and was proud to contribute to science around this common activity. The results of the study I took part in will be published next year. In the meantime, Stanford has published other research looking at benzene levels in homes from gas stoves. If you want to find out more about the impacts of burning methane gas in your home and things you can do to protect yourself, visit our Health and Efficient Homes section.
Blog last updated: October 11, 2023